Just as I began mastering reducing my food waste, my daughter began eating solids, which created a whole new level of food waste. What began as food falling to the floor unintentionally, quickly became a fun (for her) game of toddler food throwing.
Food waste is always something I try to keep an eye on, because when you waste food, you waste so many resources. All the resources that were put in to making that food like the water, land, and seeds are wasted, as well as the fuel to transport the food.
Additionally, if the food is thrown in the garbage rather than being composted, it negatively impacts the environment by ending up in a landfill where it produces methane gas, a highly potent greenhouse gas.
When I realized that this whole one-man toddler food fight wasn’t going to go away anytime soon, I decided to dig in, do some research and try a few tricks to help reduce the amount of food being dropped or thrown. I’m going to share those tricks with you, but before I do, here is some important information to know about toddler development.
The biggest things to remember is, toddler food throwing is just a phase and it’s totally normal.
As you child grows, they will go through three distinct phases with dropping or throwing food.
Phase 1 (between 6-8 months old)
Your child is learning how to coordinate and control their food all while learning fine motor skills. Learning these skills will come with a few messes and dropped food as they develop their skills.
Phase 2 (between 9-12 months old)
Your child is learning cause and effect. They start noticing that their actions produce interesting results. They use meal times as their own little science lab, learning what happens when different things fall, noticing the different noises they make and so much more.
Phase 3 (between 12-18 months old)
Your child is beginning to use dropping or throwing food as a means to communicate. They may be expressing that they don’t like a food, that they are all finished, bored, or that they want attention.
TIPS TO HELP REDUCE TODDLER FOOD THROWING
And now, without further ado, here are my fantabulous toddler waste busting tips!
1. Sit down and eat with your toddler.
Do your best to give them 1:1 attention. This will give your toddler a chance to observe good models of eating behavior
2. Seat your toddler with you at the table.
Get rid of the tray on your toddler’s highchair if you’re able to and pull them up to the table where they can be part of the family meal. This helps them to be more involved. Being pulled up to the table also makes it much harder to see the ground reducing opportunities to play with cause and effect.
3. Give them food in small amounts.
Doing this helps prevent your toddler from being overwhelmed by food options. This also reduces the amount of food they are able to dump for the times they are faster than we are!
4. Watch their cues.
Observe your toddler as they eat. Do they seem to start throwing food near the end of the meal? Throwing food may be a cue that your toddler is finished eating. Don’t be afraid to follow those cues, even if they didn’t eat at much as you think they should have. Babies are born intuitive eaters and generally know how much to eat and when to stop. Offer your toddler 5-6 eating opportunities daily (snacks and meals) with a lot of variety. This gives them plenty of opportunities to satisfy their nutritional needs.
5. Teach them baby sign language.
I cannot stress this one more! When they are toddlers, they have a lot of thoughts and feelings, but often feel frustrated that they can’t express them. You can begin doing a few basic signs with them starting at six months old and by around eight or nine months old, your baby will be developmentally ready enough to use those signs. A few signs that I’ve found to be very helpful with meal times are all done, more, water, milk, and food. You can find more information on baby signs here.
6. Give them breaks.
Sometimes toddlers just need a reset. When your child starts throwing or dropping a lot of food, but you don’t think they are done, try taking their food away for a minute, and letting them reset. If they continue eating, great! If they go back to their antics, they are most likely done.
7. Give them a utensil.
Giving your toddler a utensil provides just enough of a challenge and activity to distract them away from throwing their food.
8. Use positive directions.
Instead of saying “Don’t throw your food,” try “We keep our food on our plates.” This tells them what behavior you would like to see, instead of just telling them what you don’t want them to do.
9. Reduce snacking between meals.
If your toddler is too full from snacking in between meals, they aren’t likely to want to sit down and eat more food.
10. Keep calm (even if it’s the hundredth time they’ve thrown their food).
A calm response is a much less interesting response to a toddler looking for attention or a reaction.
11. Use one of these silicone place mats
To be honest, I hesitated to add this one. Over-consumption of unnecessary products adds a huge strain to the environment, so I generally recommend finding other solutions before going out to buy a product that will “solve all your problems”.
In addition, silicone is also one of those “iffy” items. In general, it’s better for the environment than plastic, but it’s still hard to recycle. Your best option for silicone items is to pass on undamaged items that you no longer use to a friend, reuse the silicone if it’s damaged by cutting them down into potholders or jar grips, or use Terracylce’s recycling program.
That being said, if you find that after putting all of the above tips to use that toddler food throwing is still a problem, this mat can be very helpful. We received one of these as a hand me down for my daughter. It’s been very helpful because her favorite game used to be acting like a windshield wiper and swiping her arms back and forth across her tray to fling all the food down to the ground. Using this mat DEFINITELY helped curb this behavior.
The raised edges of the tray meant she couldn’t swipe anymore. Another bonus of the raised edges is that they also made it easier for her to grab food because she could trap the food against the edge (using her hands or a utensil). The other feature I love about this mat is that it suctions. Regular plates or bowls are easy to pick up and toss, or accidentally upend, but this mat helps prevent that as well.
Even with all these tricks, some food will inevitably end up on the floor. So, what is the best way to dispose of it?
If you have access to compost, whether municipally or in your backyard, utilize it. A good rule of thumb is to avoid putting animal products in home compost, but some municipal composting will take any food waste. If your city offers composting, make sure to check what they allow. Composting is ideal because it is a great circular economy practice. Food that is grown from the earth is able to return to the earth, adding more nutrients to the soil to continue the growing cycle.
Garbage disposals are another option. Food put down the garbage disposal ends up in your septic system, which is then taken to a water treatment facility. There, the waste is treated and biosolids are made. Many water treatment facilities recycle a portion of the biosolids, using them as a fertilizer. Using your garbage disposal ensures that at least a portion of your food waste is returned to the earth, instead of just being landfilled. Please use your best judgement, as some food waste can damage your garbage disposal, such as highly starchy foods, or fruit pits.
Feed to animals
Many people have dogs that gladly clean up after their tiny human companions. I don’t recommend having the dog around during mealtimes as it can become a fun game for a toddler to watch the dogs eat what they’ve dropped, but post meal clean up can be a great option. Chickens, goats or pigs can be another option for some food waste. Please, once again, use your best judgement and make sure that the foods being fed to the animals are okay for the animals to eat.
Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!